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Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for July, 2017

The Expense of Early Sport Specialization

My role in the horse world to date has been little more than loyal supporter. This includes my posts as head cheerleader, financier, and klutzy outsider comic relief (for example, I always seem to be over- or under-dressed). My ROI is measured in the smiles on my girls’ faces over the years. They have seemed to truly enjoy the process, the journey, sometimes with little regard to the outcome or the score.

Everything about the horse world is expensive. Really expensive, actually. There are lots of expensive sports out there to be sure. Golf, tennis, and hockey come quickly to mind. All have in common expensive equipment, coaching, and venues, even at the lowest levels of participation. Most other sports only become expensive when you add in the effects of higher level competition with the new burdens of professional coaching and travel. Think AAU anything, gymnastics or swimming.

One thing that sets the horse world apart is the Sugar Daddy or Sugar Momma, a usually over-monied individual whose sole role is to write checks. Big checks. Lots and lots of checks. Most whom I’ve met don’t really seem to enjoy hanging around horses, actually. Kinda like someone who owns a big boat but gets seasick in the bathtub. The other essential difference between a Sugar Daddy/Momma and a “Little League Parent” is that the Sugar Daddy/Momma doesn’t care a lick about the outcome of the event.

In a funny, very roundabout way this makes me think about youth sports, high school sports, and the behavior of parents in that world. Unlike the Sugar Daddy/Momma the youth sports parent is highly invested in outcomes, not only game by game but also in terms of reaching the next level. As in that level to which the ridiculously large percentage of participants never get. You probably think this is about going pro, about making a living at your sport. Nope. That number is so tiny and has been parsed so many times and so many ways that it’s not worth spending the electrons thinking about how few college athletes or minor leaguers make it to The Show. I’m not even talking about getting a scholarship to play a D1 sport.

What I’m thinking about is some fascinating facts about how few high school athletes go on to play a sport at any level in college.

Seriously, the numbers are comically low. Cut and past this for a look: http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/research/estimated-probability-competing-college-athletics. For boys, only lacrosse and hockey are above 10%. More boys go on to swim in college (7.1%) than play football (6.8%). The statistics are similar for girls led by Ice hockey (24%), lacrosse (12.9%), and field hockey (10.1%); all other sports are in the low to mid-single digits. I don’t know about you, but with all of the teams sponsored by Division 3 colleges out there, along with the dearth of multi-sport athletes taking up more than one slot, these figures are really shockingly low.

How, then, can we justify the expense of early sport specialization, both in real financial terms, and in terms of the epidemic of injuries suffered through over-use and under-preparation?

On my most recent foray into the horse world I met a  youngster who plays on a volleyball team that uses CrossFit to enhance their fitness.  She no longer does her first-love sport, tumbling, because of a repetitive use stress fracture in her back suffered before she started to play other sports. All tumbling all the time wrecked her. How many young arms must we scar with a Tommy John “autograph” prior to obtaining a driver’s license before we suggest adding in a little winter reprieve from pitching? Isn’t it just a bit disheartening to think that the ACL tear rate in young female soccer players is higher than the overall NCAA participation rate for girls who played that sport in high school? Mind you, these are TOTAL participation rates, not the percentages of kids who got a scholarship to play D1. The list goes on and on.

Says here that the kids would be far better off playing more sports with their buddies in their hometown schools, both physically and mentally, than they are now joining elite travel programs and chasing after such a small number of slots at the next level. Probably have a better relationship with Mom and Dad, too. For sure Mom and Dad are likely to be better behaved. Throw in a little bit of fitness training that emphasizes proper mechanics in functional movements and maybe we can start a trend.

No Sugar Daddies or Mommas necessary, either.

We Will All Become Orphans

Sadly, I have had numerous opportunities over the last year or so to note that there is not a single language on earth that has a word or name for a parent who has lost a child. Words exist to describe a surviving spouse, and of course we have a word in most languages for a child without parents: orphan. The word conjures up Dickensonian images of waifs and wastrels in varying degrees of distress and underdress, under-fed and unloved. In reality, despite the ubiquity of this stereotype, there are many, many ways that one becomes an orphan. Indeed, in a proper order of events, each of us will be orphaned by the loss of a second parent.

It is somewhat amazing to me how many people have lost a parent early in life through abandonment. A mother or a father simply ups and leaves. No forwarding address or email, just gone forever. It hurts just to type those words. What must it feel like to live them? Still others lose a parent for years on end before that parent actually dies. Mental illnesses of all sorts, most commonly the various types of dementia, essentially wipe a loved one’s personhood off the planet long before the empty shell passes on. It’s a rather cruel joke, that, to see what looks like your Mom or Dad sitting across from you like some kind of reasonable facsimile, an avatar perhaps, but not really Mom or Dad. Mourning begins years or decades before anyone sits Shiva.

In the end, though, orphanhood comes for us all, in one way or another. My friend Bill, the surgeon, expresses surprise and a sense of something that is a bit more than frustration, though slightly less than anger, at what he calls the “final reckoning” deathbed visit. Why, he so often wonders, do so many people, so many sons and daughters feel the need to achieve some sort of closure, some sort of final peace in the last waning hours of a life? Mind you, this is a man who practices “live and death” medicine; his point, forged so close to the fire, ought not be missed.

Mothers and fathers are no more or less flawed than any other humans. For most of us their flaws lie cloaked behind the curtains of devotion in our childhood. As we ourselves age, certainly if we become parents, those curtains part and we begin to see more of the whole person who makes up Mom or Dad. Blessed are we who find more to like and love behind those curtains. One hopes at worst that what we find does not dim the glow of childhood memory. Bill’s point, or at least what I think he is saying, is that we should know that orphanhood is inevitable. There is nothing that you can say or do on death’s doorstep that cannot be said or done long before you approach the threshold of your own orphan status. Bill would say that closure is important, that he understands and supports the compulsion to make sure that your parents know that you love them. It’s just the timing he’s wondering about.

Why wait until the cusp of orphanhood? Why not discharge regrets and express your love and gratitude when you and Mom and Dad can might have time to enjoy what comes next? Together.


Sunday musings 7/2/17

Sunday musings…

1) Calisthenics. From the Greek: “kalos” meaning beauty, and “thenos” meaning strength.

2) Size. Someone always as a bigger boat.

3) Anoesis: A state of mind which consists of pure sensation or emotion, devoid of any cognitive content.

I am on vacation this week, seeking the elusive state of anoesis.

4) Independence Day. July 4th, 1776. Brexit v1.0, if you will. In honor of the day I will re-read the Declaration of Independence, the document that we celebrate today. While I’m at it I think I will read the Constitution in its entirety. If I’ve done so in the past I have surely forgotten the experience.

Both efforts will surely be at cross purposes with my anoesis pilgrimage.

5) Somebody. Incognito (no bow tie; kept my mouth shut), I was out and about with Mrs. bingo yesterday. Nevertheless, I was recognized several times. “Aren’t you somebody?” Or even better/worse: “Weren’t you somebody?” In a see and be seen society these questions are asked with great regularity. The asking and the answering are equally amusing.

“Aren’t/weren’t you somebody?” Both questions are really rather bold and intrusive, don’t you think? What does it even mean to be a someone, anyway? If you ARE a someone what’s it like when somebody sees that you are someone but can’t figure out just who? I wonder if it’s hard, or maybe a little bit sad, someone remembering that you were once upon a time a someone and you aren’t any more.

The world of CrossFit has grown so much that there are actually FEWER somebodies nowadays. In the earliest days of CrossFit there were so few of us that it was relatively easy to be a “somebody” of a sort. Heck, there were so few of us around that no one was more than 2 degrees of separation from anyone else, including Coach. Really big CrossFit Central “somebodies” were at the other end of an email address or a cellphone number, and they responded to pretty much any CrossFitter who reached out. Gone from sight are OPT, Hari and Damnit, MattG and his flame wars. No more Appolloswabbie and Dale dueling with Barry or Prole on Rest Day. Brendan G is now part of a growing family with Allison_NYC, both only barely on the grid where once they were daily companions for most everyone CrossFit. Seriously, when is the last time you saw an update on one of the “Nasty Girls” Eva T, Annie, or Nicole? Someone needs to send out an APB.

Growth in the CrossFit world has decreased the number of household “somebodies” while at the same time dramatically changing those that remain into SOMEBODY.

There is nothing that is uniquely CrossFitty about this transition, of course. Any rapidly growing “new, new thing” will encounter this phenomenon. I once likened discovering CrossFit to not only living in Seattle in the earliest days of grunge metal, but of actually being in the audience when Nirvana or Pearl Jam were singing for beers. Hewlett and Packard left behind just as many early adopters and colleagues as did Gates and Jobs, people who were real “somebodies” in the earliest days of Silicon Valley tech. In the journey to “used to be someone” it matters little whether you stepped off the train or were jettisoned, you are now “used to be” either way.

At best I have never been more than a C-List somebody, here or anywhere. I doubt if anyone will ever seriously ask me: “didn’t you use to be…?”

I’ll see you next week…


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